Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge
Organic gardens are grown without the used of any synthetic fertilisers or pesticides. But while you won't be using any chemical insecticides, fungicides or herbicides, you will still need to ensure your plants are properly nourished and protected from pests. Read on for our top tips on growing an organic garden.
- Choose the right plants
- Work with nature
- Combine plants correctly
- Rotate crops
- Maintain soil fertility
- Use natural insecticides and fungicides
- Sow organic seeds
Choose the right plants for your environment
As is the case with any type of garden, a plant will only remain healthy when it is well suited to both the soil and the local climate. You should therefore select all plants and varieties to match your space.
It never hurts to ask your neighbours what vegetables or flowers they have had success growing.
Make the most of nature's little helpers
A great way to do so is to attract animals such as birds, hedgehogs, toads, lacewings and ladybirds. One of the best methods for enticing wildlife to your garden is to create shelters such as hedges, nesting boxes, piles of old wood, tiles or pebbles. You should also plant flowers to attract flower flies and bees which are, of course, essential for pollination.
It's also a good idea to leave a corner of your garden completely untouched to encourage biodiversity.
Pick the right combination of plants
Crops and plants interact with each other and this can lead to both favourable and unfavourable results. It's up to you to place the right plants side by side to create mutually beneficial combinations. For example, celery thrives near cabbage, while the same goes for carrots and onions. On the other hand, some plants, like cabbages and strawberries, do not enjoy each other's company.
Wild plants can also provide an invaluable service for your crops. For example, tansy flowers or marigolds are known for their ability to deter insects.
Other plants can be used to direct insects away from your crops. Nasturtium, for example, is very good for attracting aphids.
Practise crop rotation
Rotating crops is the practice of alternating different types of crops on the same plot of land over the seasons. Basically, once you've grown a certain plant in one spot, you can't grow it in the same position for another four or five years. This process is designed to prevent loss of soil fertility and discourage disease or parasites.
Maintain soil fertility
A healthy dose of compost in autumn is generally enough to provide your vegetable or decorative plants with all the essential nutrients they require. That being said, be careful not to be too generous with the amount, as overloading the soil with manure can encourage disease. The recommended rate for moderately fertile soil is about 3 to 4 kg of mature compost per m².
If you do not make your own compost, you can always try asking for some at a local allotment.
Mulch is another way to maintain the fertility of your soil. No matter which approach you go with, never leave the ground bare.
Use natural insecticides and fungicides
Grind up plants to create an organic concoction to spray your plants with. Nettle and horsetail are particularly good at preventing disease.
If a plant requires further treatment, use black soap or rapeseed oil to fight pests like aphids and scale insects. Alternatively, you can prepare another type of plant-based mixture.
Use helpful predators to your advantage. You can purchase these insects like ladybirds and hoverflies in garden centres or online.
A Bordeaux mixture (a mixture composed of copper, sulphate and slaked lime) is also suitable for use in an organic garden and works to combat various diseases.
Choose non-toxic pest control
Hang coloured sticker traps to catch insects like carrot flies.
Wrap the trunks of your fruit trees with a strip of corrugated cardboard to trap insects.
Put up anti-insect nets to prevent access to cabbages, leeks or carrots.
Locate and remove any parts of plants already affected by disease or parasites.
Sow organic seeds
Organic seeds and the plants used to produce them have never been exposed synthetic chemicals. Since these seedlings have never been treated with chemicals – particularly fungicides – they will be more likely to develop beneficial fungi around their roots grown during germination. These fungi help the plant to gather nutrients.
Organic seeds are often older, non-hybrid varieties that can be re-seeded without any problem. And of course, you can be sure there are no traces of GMOs in organic seeds!
Biodynamics, permaculture & organic growing
Organic gardening and permaculture are responsible, sustainable practices that aim to put the environment first. These methods are designed to help us to better preserve our natural resources and maintain a healthy balance with nature.
Anyone can get started in permaculture with just a few simple actions.
Guide written by:
John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 47 guides
When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy. At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood. I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.